A Festival Of Underground, Experimental & International Music
April 2021
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MC Yallah

An interview by Claire Sawers, July 2020

When MC Yallah put out her song ‘Mpambana’ in 2018, she gave the following translation: “Mpambana is the capacity, ability and drive to compete successfully at the highest level against those who are already established. It’s an attitude to go 101% against ‘the boys’ and prove yourself as a formidable contender.”

Over the last ten years MC Yallah (real name Yallah Gaudencia Mbidde) has become one of the most prominent underground MCs in East Africa. Originally from Kenya, but born and raised in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, MC Yallah’s exuberant, regal delivery and exhilarating, maximalist live shows caught the attention of Nyege Nyege. Now a key member of their much loved party collective, she’s spent the last few years touring Europe with them, delivering fierce, fun, powerhouse live shows. She released her debut album Kubali with Debmaster on the Kampala underground label Hakuna Kulala last September and was due to make her UK debut at Counterflows in April. Instead, she’s sending her greetings from Uganda and sharing a new track here for Counterflows’ sixth Intervention.

still from film by Chrisman

Q. How has your lockdown been going?

It’s been tough losing over 30 shows. I’ve been in this game for over 20 years and this was my time, I was really happy to bring my new album to the world, but had to delay plans. Also my kids have had to stay home, so it’s been a lot of readjusting. Luckily the studio is ready, so I’ve spent a lot of time at Nyege studios recording my next album which will be FIRE! MC Yallah don’t stop, you know.

Can you tell us about the track you’re sharing for this Counterflows Intervention?

For Counterflows I wanted to share a track that’s very special to me, it’s called ‘Noone seems to bother’ and it was started in Berlin when me and Khanja and Debmaster were rehearsing and the song just came to us naturally. Considering the current events, it seems that people in power don’t seem to bother about us. People stop caring about nature and each other, so this is affecting us all. We must continue to care and strive for something better, no matter the circumstances. I like that I worked with Khanja on this because he really brings out the RAGE in this track.

Over the past few weeks you’ve been involved in a music project on Uganda’s Lake Nalubaale (renamed Lake Victoria in 1858 by a British explorer). Can you tell us a bit about that?

Yes, we decided to get together with a bunch of A-list artists from Uganda to pay homage to our Lake Victoria, that is currently overflowing and affecting a lot of our communities. It’s also a victim of pollution. We thought it was a good idea to bring out a strong message that we must preserve our nature and our lake. It was organised by Talent Africa.

Q. How did you first get involved with the Nyege Nyege collective and the Kampala party scene in general?

About ten years ago, Derek [Debru, co founder of Nyege Nyege] started a show on TV called Newz Beat. He invited rappers to come and deliver segments of the news in a rap format every weekend on national TV in English and Luganda and Kiswahili. We were in the same circles and naturally he knew of my talent so he brought me in to deliver the news to the youth. After that we just kept going and as Nyege Nyege grew I naturally also supported it and now we are here together.

still from film by Chrisman

Q. You’ve had a very big year including live dates with Debmaster at CTM festival in Berlin, Unsound in Krakow and the Biennale in Venice – how have you enjoyed playing in Europe?

You know, it’s tough for me to say that, but I really felt overwhelmed by the love and energy I got from the crowds at my shows in Europe, and unless I do underground shows in Kampala with my people and my fans, the crowd just hasn’t been ready for me. When hip hop started in Uganda I got a lot of respect – hip hop was real and conscious and there was no money involved, hip hop fans were working on TV and radio and always supported us. But nowadays you need to pay every step of the way, and so the sound becomes a bit the same for everyone, and audiences lose appetite for new stuff. But after touring in Europe I’m gaining many new fans in East Africa, and I’ll soon be doing a major East African tour, because at the end of the day, I need to connect with my people.

Q. How do European crowds compare to the crowds back in Uganda?

Ugandans can really get more wild, but Europeans really love MC Yallah, so they also get excited, but when I hit the fire button in a club in Kampala or at Nyege Nyege, then my Ugandan crowd beats any crowd.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the lyrics on your debut album Kubali?

Kubali is in Kiswahili. I speak and flow in Luganda (the main language of Uganda) and Kiswahili (the main language of East Africa). Kubali means ‘acceptance’. It’s all about my struggles and people’s struggles, and our will to succeed and the importance of being understood and loved and supported by your own community or by strangers. A lot of the album touches on personal issues and social issues, often encouraging different points of view and pushing people to respect each other more.

Q. You put out a 12” EP recently, ‘Mama Waliwamanyii’, where the first track was inspired by the death of your mother, who raised you and your siblings after escaping domestic violence in Kenya and ‘Kakana’, in response to some of the feedback you’ve had for being an outspoken female MC – did you want to talk a bit more about those tracks?

In ‘Mama’, I talked about my hero, my mom. My mom was the strongest person you would ever meet, she raised us by herself, worked hard to keep us fed and safe and she was a victim of domestic violence and suddenly had to flee to Uganda. The love she gave me and the power she showed have stayed with me all my life, and I also want to be that hero for my kids.

Q. How are you feeling about the future for nightlife and clubs, parties, festivals in general? How do we meet up and dance now?!

We wait for Corona to be over. MC Yallah is ever ready, and so is Uganda. Just waiting for things to resume. In the meantime I try and support events and festivals with features or content so they don’t forget about me.

Q. You have an amazing aesthetic and often perform in bright colours, with neon wigs, face paint and technicolour jewellery - how important is the visual side of what you do?

It’s very important, I’m MC Yallah, remember? When I come out I got to be FLY, I need to WOW people, and get the crowd excited, with my flow, my beats, my attitude and my STYLE!

Q. What’s next for MC Yallah?

Of course Nyege Nyege Festival in September. Then my project with DJ Scotch Egg is gonna come out in October, it’s so good, then I’ve got another album in the pipeline with Debmaster and a few exciting side projects with producers from our team and from Africa. I want to experiment with different vibes and keep people wanting more.